Study Guide

Everything That Rises Must Converge

Everything That Rises Must Converge Summary

We start off with a bang: "Her doctor had told Julian's mother that she must lose twenty pounds on account of her blood pressure …" (1). Because mom is afraid to ride the buses alone at night (she's just a wee bit racist, this one), she asks her son, Julian, to take her to the Y for her reducing class every Wednesday. Major eye-roll, but he does it anyway.

This Wednesday is different because (1) his mom has a new, really ugly hat, and (2) Julian gets it in his mind to teach his mother a lesson about the error of her old-fashioned views on race and class.

Attempt #1 doesn't go too well, when the black guy Julian tries to talk to "refused to come out from behind his paper" (71). Guess he didn't want to be part of the life-lesson.

Now for Attempt #2: two new passengers get on the bus and sit next to Julian, a young boy (Carver) and his mother. Gasp! They're black. To his delight, Julian sees that Carver's mother is wearing the same hat as his mother; he can't "believe that Fate had thrust upon his mother such a lesson" (82). Unfortunately, the lesson is lost on his mother because she's too distracted by Carver, whom she finds exceedingly cute. But Carver's mother is not amused by their mutual affections and violently forces her son away.

When it turns out that they are all getting off at the same stop, Julian's mother searches for a nickel to give Carver. All she finds is a penny and even though Julian warns her not to do it, she offers it to the boy. Carver's mother is super ticked-off and hits Julian's mother with her purse, shouting "He don't take nobody's pennies!" (102).

Things get very serious very fast. The sudden act of violence (or maybe the emotional shock) pushes his mother over the edge, and her blood pressure rises dangerously high. When she collapses on the sidewalk, Julian panics and flees, crying for help.

  • "Everything That Rises Must Converge"

    • We begin with a the news that Julian's mom needs to reduce.
    • "Reduce" is a super-cute old-fashioned term for "lose weight." We're thinking about making that happen again; what do you say?
    • Anyway, Julian's mother has to lose twenty pounds because of high blood pressure.
    • Because he's such a good son (ha!), Julian takes her to the Y for her reducing class. You know, like Jazzercise but without the leotards.
    • This Wednesday night he waits for her as she puts on her new hat in front of the mirror.
    • Full of shopper's guilt, she debates whether or not she should have bought it.
    • Ugh, mom. Julian tells her she was right to have bought it, even though he thinks it's hideous.
    • We learn that Julian is a recent college grad currently living off of his mother.
    • In pure Holden-esque form, Julian's disgusted by his neighborhood; though once a "fashionable" area it is now full of "bulbous liver-colored monstrosities of a uniform ugliness […]" (5).
    • Mama J follows him outside while putting on her gloves.
    • Julian looks sullen and depressed, and Mama J assumes it's because he hates the hat.
    • Way to make it all about yourself, mom.
    • Annoyed, Julian tells her "shut up and enjoy [the hat]" (13). Ouch!
    • They walk to the bus stop, discussing light topics such as poverty and slavery; Julian's mother thinks blacks were better off as slaves and says they should "rise, yes, but on their own side of the fence" (24).
    • Before a real argument can erupt, they reach the bus stop, with no bus in sight.
    • As if possessed by the devil, Julian gets an "evil urge to break her spirit" (37).
    • He does this by unloosening his tie and (gasp!) pulling it off.
    • Mama J tells him he looks like a "thug."
    • Julian's retort? He tells her that "true culture is in the mind, the mind" (43).
    • She disagrees and tells him it's in the heart and that she knows who she is.
    • In the nick of time the bus comes and Julian and his mother sit next to a woman with long yellow hair.
    • Social butterfly that she is, the mother starts a conversation about the heat and how she's glad that they have the bus to themselves (i.e., no blacks).
    • The women talk about their sons; Julian's mother reveals that he wants to write but for now he's selling typewriters.
    • Julian retreats into his thoughts, grateful that "he was not dominated by his mother" (62).
    • Keep telling yourself that, kid.
    • Trouble begins when the bus stops and a large, well-dressed black man with a briefcase gets on.
    • Julian's mother jabs Julian in the ribs and whispers "now you see why I don't ride on these buses by myself" (63).
    • Oh yeah? Julian sits next to the man to get a rise out of his mother; to show her how open he is he asks the man for a … light.
    • D'oh! Turns out there's no smoking on the bus … big fail for Julian.
    • The bus stops again. This time a large black woman and her young son, Carver, get on.
    • The woman sits next to Julian and the Carver sits next to Julian's mother.
    • Julian realizes that the woman is wearing the exact same hat as his mother. Julian sees this as a gift from above, but he's sure she'll be mortified to see she has the same fashion taste as a black woman.
    • Alas, Mama J notices, but is more interested in playing with Carver.
    • Unfortunately, Carver's mother drags him away from Julian's mother, unimpressed by their fast friendship.
    • Julian and Carver's mother pull the bus cord at the same time.
    • As they step off, Julian's mother searches in her bag for a nickel to give Carver;
    • Julian says something along the lines of, "uh, don't," but she doesn't listen.
    • Instead of a nickel, she only has a penny and tries to hand it to cute little Carver.
    • Unfortunately, a white woman giving a black boy money during integration is never a good idea. (Or, really, any time.)
    • With the might of her fist and ginormous pocketbook, Carver's mother knocks Julian's mother to the ground.
    • Instead of comforting his mom, Julian says, "you got exactly what you deserved" (104).
    • Although Julian's mother stands up, she's very shaky.
    • Always the preacher, Julian says, "the old world is gone. The old manners are obsolete and your graciousness is not worth a damn" (110).
    • It isn't until Julian catches his mother's arm and looks at her face that he realizes something is wrong.
    • Who does Mama J asks for? Grandpa (he's dead) and Caroline (her childhood nanny).
    • Shocked, Julian lets her go and she falls to the pavement.
    • Julian cries "Wait here, wait here!" (121) and runs off for help, leaving her alone.